Fast-charging law: The BMVI's delicate balancing act

Fast-charging law: The BMVI's delicate balancing act

With 1,000 DC charging parks, the federal government wants to finally make the electric car suitable for the masses and remove the last doubts about charging availability and range anxiety. In the meantime, the associated draft of the so-called fast charging law is being discussed in Berlin. This is intended to define the legal framework for the tenders - but questions remain unanswered.

Johannes Pallasch, head of the National Charging Infrastructure Control Centre at the federally owned NOW GmbH, spoke of a "paradigm shift" when the plans for the 1,000 DC charging parks were announced in June 2020. There was a great deal of approval, after all, according to Pallasch, "the current market failure" in the expansion of fast chargers should be overcome.

The Volkswagen Group - itself involved in the development of an HPC network through its joint venture Ionity - also praised the plans as "exactly right", but: "We haven't even seen the tender announced for the summer yet, let alone one of these charging parks," criticised Martin Höfelmann, head of policy and communications at VW's energy subsidiary Elli, in November.

Now, however, the draft bill of the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI) for the "Act on the Provision of Nationwide Fast Charging Infrastructure for Pure Battery Electric Vehicles" (Schnellladegesetz or SchnellLG for short) is available. And the BMVI is now in a hurry: The ministry has given the associations from the mobility and energy industry only a few working days to comment on the draft - and that around the turn of the year. Insiders confirm to "great excitement on all fronts". But: The deadline for the reaction of the associations was later extended by a few days. Subsequently, the draft will go the usual parliamentary route, i.e. first into the departmental vote. The formulations quoted here are therefore not final.

But why all the excitement after half a year of preparation? In short, because the current version of the draft bill contains a number of passages whose effects cannot yet be foreseen in concrete terms - but which will ultimately determine whether an investment is attractive for a charging point operator or not. And: the SchnellLG only establishes the legal framework for the subsequent tenders. Only the tenders themselves will (hopefully) provide the information on the basis of which the operators can make a decision.

Doubtful charging performance

Let's start with the basics: "With the Act on the Provision of Nationwide Fast Charging Infrastructure, the Federal Government intends to ensure the nationwide, demand-oriented development of publicly accessible charging infrastructure for the fast charging of pure battery electric vehicles," the draft states right at the beginning. In doing so, it follows the premise that has been familiar since the summer: the federal government sets the rules according to which construction is carried out. One point in particular is initially surprising in the SchnellLG draft: instead of the previously announced 150 kW charging capacity, there is only talk of "at least 100 kW" - but at every charging point, mind you. Two explanations are possible here: firstly, a higher value can be specified later in the invitation to tender; in practice, this lower limit could be less of an issue. Secondly, the columns are advertised to customers as having "up to" 150 kW - but if, for example, both charging points have a

However, the very fact that the law is to deviate from the existing charging station ordinance is drawing criticism. The associations, according to well-informed sources, would have preferred the tender for the fast charging stations to be based on the existing laws and ordinances - and not to define their own specifications. The fear is that the criteria formulated in the tenders could possibly go beyond the charging station ordinance, not only in terms of technical factors, but also, for example, in terms of billing formalities. Controversial points - such as the obligation for a credit card terminal - could thus be prescribed for these 1,000 charging stations after all. Instead of further standardisation, there would be a patchwork quilt.

Right from the summer, the premise is that companies will remain the operators, but will enter into a contract with the federal government that sets out clear quality standards and deadlines, or as the draft now puts it: "The federal government shall define the technical, economic and legal framework conditions for the provision of services that must be observed by federal contractors with regard to the accessibility, performance, reliability, suitability for demand or user-friendliness of the infrastructure service". Anyone who fails to meet the conditions can be terminated.

Cherry picking was yesterday

In concrete terms, at least ten area lots are to be formed nationwide in the award procedures - each lot is a mixture of more attractive and less frequented locations. In this way, the federal government wants to prevent cherry-picking and ensure a nationwide offer. Within the framework of the invitation to tender, the responsible authority is then to determine the conditions under which companies "can bid on one lot or on several lots".

So far, so good, but the federal government not only wants to have a say in the locations, it also wants to set further requirements: "It determines the number of fast-charging points, the equipment, and the ancillary facilities that are to be provided at the fast-charging locations". The aim is for electric cars to be able to reach "any place in Germany by a direct route" - i.e. without having to take a detour to reach the charging station.

But: The federal government also specifies how expensive a location will be. Specifically, the draft speaks of "forward-looking oversizing" - and of the expansion of fast-charging infrastructure as a public task, "the execution of which is to be carried out by private operators". Although the federal government sees an "initial provision of financial resources to enable the forward-looking provision of infrastructure in the market ramp-up phase" as its task, it is unclear exactly how this will affect private operators in practice.

This is because a subsidy rate - let's say 40 percent as an example - has not been provided for so far. This means that there is a possibility that the bids for one or more of the lots will differ primarily in the estimated subsidy rate. Think examples: Interested party A wants 55 percent of the costs subsidized, while interested party B, for example, does not build a roof over the charging stations but only wants 40 percent subsidy. Interested party C fulfills all of the federal government's wishes and also builds a high-quality facility with washrooms and a shop at a previously neglected highway parking lot, but estimates a subsidy rate of 100 percent. How is the federal government supposed to decide and allocate taxpayers' money here?